Friday, December 09, 2005

Dog Pile on Murtha

Among the conservative pundits who've jumped on the Jack Murtha dog pile is Professor Mackubin Thomas Owens of the U.S. Naval War College. His article "Defeated by Defeatism: Why Jack Murtha is Wrong" appears at National Review Online. A decade ago, I studied under Mack Owens, and considered him to be one of the very finest professors at the War College. Lamentably, he appears to have devolved into a rank-and-file right wing hatchet man. His article on Murtha reads like the standard menu of cheap Rovewellian tricks.

Owens opens his assault on Murtha by deliberately misquoting him.
As everyone knows, Rep. Jack Murtha (D., Pa.) initiated a fierce debate last Thursday when he launched a scathing attack on Bush's Iraq policy...and called for a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

"Everyone knows" that Murtha called for a "timetable" because Mack Owens and others told them he did. The word "timetable" has become a hand grenade that gets hurled at anyone who opposes the Bush administration's policies, but it does not appear anywhere in Murtha's formal statement to the House of Representatives or in his proposed joint resolution. Professor Owens knows this, and so does every other pro-administration spin merchant who misquoted Murtha for the express purpose of misleading the public.

Owens follows his first volley with a cheap shot below the waterline:
Murtha has been a critic of U.S. policy in Iraq for some time despite his vote to authorize the war… Murtha supported Howard Dean as DNC chairman and joined Nancy Pelosi in May 2004 in labeling the war "un-winnable."

But there is no need to attempt to discredit Murtha this way.

Oh really, Professor? Then why did you just attempt it?

Next comes the obligatory allusion to the Vietnam disaster:
…if the United States were to take Murtha's advice, the outcome would be precisely the opposite of what he desires. He only needs to recall what happened in Vietnam.

It's remarkable how the war hawks denied any similarity between Iraq and Vietnam until it became convenient to equate them. In a National Review Online article from 2003, Owens wrote:
I am officially sick of the constant claims of reporters and politicians that Iraq is becoming a rerun of the Vietnam "quagmire." These people don’t know what they are talking about. They remind me of the old adage that it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt. The fact is that there is little similarity between Iraq and Vietnam. Indeed, there is little comparison between the real Vietnam War and the facile description of it that we get from critics of the Iraq operation.

So who doesn't know what they're talking about now? Professor Owens or the "critics of the Iraq operation?"

And no broadside against Murtha would be complete without the ubiquitous reference to his sentimentality and a backhand to the "liberal media."
…it is very clear that Murtha has been moved by the soldiers he has visited who have been wounded in the war and by the plight of those who have lost loved ones in Iraq. But those of us who respect his grasp of military affairs expect him, unlike members of the press, to be able to place casualties in strategic context.

This is about as original as original sin. Any Naval War College student who put this passage in a term paper without citing Fox News would be expelled for plagiarism.

But more to the point is Owens' snide inference that Murtha was pandering to the liberal press. Even more specious is the suggestion that Murtha--or anyone--is incapable of both mourning our war casualties and placing them in "strategic context."

Owens' article is rife with emotionally evocative mantras: "domestic defeatism," "cut and run," "dishonor," "shame," "betray," "abandon." One expects this sort of childish rhetoric from Ann Coulter, but not from a distinguished professor of national security studies.

In all, "Defeated by Defeatism" is pseudo-academic advocacy that publications like the National Review so often pass off for genuine scholarly analysis. I'm sorry to see that someone of Mack Owens' remarkable intellect and talent has stooped to writing it.


  1. What do you think would happen on the ground in Iraq if the U.S. were to withdraw right now? I don't know the answer to that, but I suspect it would be fairly chaotic.

    As an aside: interesting you criticize Owen for his backhand to the media (and rightly so I think), but then immediately follow with your own gratuitous backhand to Fox News. Seems to be a lot of this sort of thing going around from both sides, no?

  2. "What do you think would happen on the ground in Iraq if the U.S. were to withdraw right now?"

    Now, Scott, careful be careful how you throw around that straw man. Neither Murtha nor I am calling for troops to "withdraw right now."

    As to "backhanding" Fox:

    The "Murtha's going soft" was on the Fox shows the night after he gave his speech, and it's been chambered ever since. So no, I don't think my remarks constitute a "backhand." They're meant to be a punch in the nose.

  3. I agree that the article you cite is egregious in its oversimplification and mischaracterication.

    I guess I'm a bit surprised to learn that political purity is now a requirement for tenure at Newport.

    Is it that way at Annapolis, too?

  4. I'm sure it is, Lurch, but I sure couldn't say for sure, if you know what I mean.

    My "sources" on the inside don't talk to me much these days.

  5. fbg461:06 PM

    "What do you think would happen on the ground in Iraq if the US were to withdraw right now?"

    Question: What does "right now" mean to you? Do you think we're going to sneak 150,000 troops plus gear out of Iraq overnight? Do you think we're going to secretly disassemble all the bases we've built and ship them out overnight?
    Or do you think we're just going to abandon everything and leave it behind? So if some Cav Sqdn is driving out and a couple of its M1s and Brads break down or run out of fuel, we're just going to leave them?

    Point: "Right now" is a meaningless phrase in this context and it's not what Murtha said or meant.

    "Right now" in military-ese means "getting out in good order, i.e., making provisions to take our gear with us, and have adequate force protection so the last battalion in country doesn't have to fight it's way out."

    Do you think such a withdrawal can be done at once or in stages? Do you think air cover is going to be needed to cover the withdrawal? If so, do you think ground support will be needed to cover the air cover so it's not taken out by Manpads? Do you think provisions have to be made for equipment that breaks down on the way out? Particularly when we're talking about 150,000 troops?
    Also, as the man said, the enemy has a vote in what we do -- what do you think the Iraqis will be doing to us while we withdraw?
    Do you think somebody should be thinking about and planning for all the above (and the thousand other variables connected with such a withdrawal)?

    Well, somebody almost certainly is, and my guess is that the answers are coming up that "right now" starts six to nine months from now and ends about 1 1/2 years after that. And that's leaving the political calculations out of it.

    Amateurs talk about strategy; professionals talk about logistics.

  6. FBG:

    Yeah. Huge difference between "immediate withdrawal" and "immediate redeployment" (which is the terminology Murtha used.)

    If you think you might want to be moving troops out of theater in six months, you better be getting the gears in motion now.

  7. MY contacts on "the Inside" still talk to me and they are mostly scared and mostly despairing, ever since this guy did this in full-dress SpecOps Easter Bunny, General Officer, been-there-done-that-got-the-tee-shirt-to-prove-it, JSOC regalia, in a number of churches, and was allowed to get away with it, despite an investigation by the IG at the ASD level. Hell, he was promoted. Of all people, Uri Geller has a fascinating article, not only mentioning Boykin, but another "Holy Warrior" and Fox staple, Paul Valelly (who is actually no warrior and does not even warrant the tee shirt, by the way).

    Sadly, it looks like Pat Lang (WARNING: Link is .PDF and Adobe Acrobat required) is, once again, to be proven not only right (WARNING: Link is .PDF and Adobe Acrobat required), but prescient in the extreme.

    Sadly, because he was Army, and not Navy.

  8. Boykin is a one man shop of horrors. Even more frightening, though, is that he got promoted--that means the guys at the top approve of him.